I'm in Love with a Big Blue Frog
Leslie Braunstein, author
Leslie Braunstein is a songwriter and performer who was the lead singer of Soft White Underbelly, later known as the Blue Oyster Cult. Les lives in Krumville, New York, with his wife Carol and their dog Valentino, where he pursues his writing and art.
Read more about Leslie.
Joshua S. Brunet, illustrator
Joshua S. Brunet received his M.F.A. in 2011 from the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford and has been a freelance illustrator for over ten years. He has worked for a variety of magazines, including Focus on the Family and LifeWay Press. His first children’s book, When Pigs Fly, was published by Borderstone Press in 2011. He is married with three young children and currently resides in Tennessee, where he is the Director of Communications at Englewood Baptist Church and teaches in the art department at Union University.
Read more about Joshua.
Peter, Paul and Mary, performers
Peter, Paul and Mary became famous for their ability to convey powerful, personal, and political messages through a repertoire of songs that resonated with millions of Americans in the 1960s. Their 1962 debut album remained in the Top 10 for ten months, and the Top 20 for two years. Their first hit single, “Lemon Tree,” was swiftly followed by “If I Had a Hammer,” which became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement and was performed by the trio at the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his legendary, “I Have a Dream” speech. Their classic song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” has been a favorite of children for almost fifty years, an d the book version was a number-one best seller. Over a span of more than fifty years, Peter, Paul and Mary touched the lives and hearts of tens of millions of people, won five Grammy Awards, produced thirteen Top 40 hits, and received eight gold and five platinum albums.
Read more about Peter, Paul and Mary.
Braunstein’s song about racial tolerance comes to 21st-century readers in this picture book, which would not be complete without the enclosed CD recording by Peter, Paul and Mary.
Brunet’s zany, realistic illustrations vividly portray both the love between the freckled redhead and the tall, lanky blue Dr. Phrog (he has a Ph.D.) and the discrimination they face as a result of their “interracial” relationship despite the frog’s solid background, education and family. Both humans and animals fill the huge, full-bleed spreads, in a town that is obviously populated by both, but in no other context do readers see the species mixing. An elephant shields its calf’s eyes from the sight of the two sipping from one glass at the soda fountain while the human soda jerk looks on this approvingly; homogeneous family groups play at the playground (and on the next page, the narrator imagines her fabulous frog/human children). The final illustration departs from this hostility, showing the couple handing out frog-shaped ice-cream pops to the locals, who sport “I heart Phrog” shirts and buttons. While this is certainly a positive development, readers will wonder exactly how the turnaround happened. A “Performers’ Note” explains the song’s historical background.
An interesting take on discrimination and acceptance that will introduce young readers to the sound of an influential musical group.
Brunet (When Pigs Fly) provides brassy, bold visuals for this bumpy adaptation of Braunstein's 1967 folk song, famously performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary; the trio's original recording and two additional songs are featured on an accompanying CD. An endnote explains that the song is a metaphor for the struggle against discrimination and segregation in the civil rights era, and the book stars a loving but vilified couple, a redheaded young woman and a tall beret-wearing frog (imagine a dapper blue cousin to Kermit). Throughout, folks keep to their own kind—whether human, zebra, or sheep—exhibiting a "different is bad" mentality. In the opening scene, the couple shares a float in a soda shop while customers (both human and animal) look on disapprovingly; when they move into a new house, beaver neighbors glare at them over a picket fence ("They think value on their property will go right down/If the family next door is blue"). The tacked-on happy ending is perplexing : the prejudice of the preceding pages vanishes when the couple hands out frog-themed treats from an ice cream truck.
School Library Journal
They're an unconventional pair. She's just a nice human girl, but he's 6'3", a great swimmer, wears glasses, has a PhD, and by the way--he's blue. From tadpoles to grand-frog, his family welcomes her, but the neighbors are fundamentally against blues on their block. With painted art that seamlessly combines cartoon images and digital techniques, joyous emotions contrast with steely glances of disapproval against backgrounds of vivid color. Font changes to emphasize the text, and angles perspectives move readers from page to page. The accompanying CD includes Peter, Paul, and Mary's 1967 recording with lilt, charm, and folk instrumentation, followed by a 2012 recording by Peter Yarrow of "The Froggy Went a Courtin'" and Noel Paul Stookey's Inside (1986). A CD discography and illustrator's and performer's notes conclude the book, giving readers a historical reference for this song and its initial performance by Peter, Paul and Mary. This book will find a home both in music classrooms to hear folk styling or to entertain another generation of fans.
"Huntington —A civil rights committee, which sent Negro and white members posing as prospective home buyers to real estate brokers in this township over the weekend, charged yesterday that 19 of the 20 brokers tested discriminated against Negroes. The group said it would send its findings to state officials to seek interdisciplinary action. The Huntington Township Committee on Human Relations said about 35 Negro and white members visited 21 Huntington brokers Saturday. Mrs. Joyce Insolia, co-chairman of the committee, said the prospective white buyers were shown numerous homes by brokers who had told Negro customers that they had no houses to show or had taken them on tours of homes in substantially Negro neighborhoods."
—"LI Group Finds Realty Bias," NEWSDAY, January 21, 1963 (Exactly a year before my parents moved us to a new home in that same township)
"Yes, and, how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see"
—Bob Dylan song performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, April 24, 1971 in Washington DC, for the half-million of us who traveled there to protest the Vietnam War.
It is so weird how these things sometimes work. I was researching in the library over in Glen Rock yesterday for a few hours. I then walked a few miles back in the dark, with a few borrowed books in my backpack, which just happened to include a copy of THE PETER YARROW SONGBOOK: SONGS FOR LITTLE FOLKS, which is a wonderful combination picture book and CD containing a bunch of traditional kids songs that Peter – from Peter, Paul and Mary—recorded with his daughter Bethany.
Walking into the lobby, just before the snow started, I found a newly-delivered box of books waiting for me. When I got upstairs and pried it open, I discovered a copy of a brand-new picture book/CD combination featuring an old Peter, Paul and Mary song (written by Les Braunstein). I didn't recall the song, but I loaded the CD into the laptop, opened the picture book, and as sure as heck understood what this on-the-surface goofy song was all about as soon as they got to the part that goes:
"The neighbors are against it and it's clear to me,
And it's prob'ly clear to you,
They think value on their property will go right down
If the family next door is blue."
Having been a Long Island kid who grew up reading NEWSDAY every day, and who saw a nearly-completed new house in our new neighborhood somehow burn to the ground (Guess who was moving into it), I am so moved by this song—which is a piece of our history—and the treatment given it in this book.
Back in those days, you needed the imagination of John Lennon—and then some—to envision a day when the country would vote to have a black family live in the nation’s most famous house. No matter how much I talk about it, I don't think my kids could ever begin to imagine how exciting it is for me—have lived through those days—to see so many of our dreams coming to fruition.
Anyway, you should watch this great performance on YouTube of BIG BLUE FROG at Peter, Paul and Mary's twenty-fifth anniversary concert in 1986. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svoVxWcGNzA.
And once you get a hold of this book, be sure to watch for details like the sheep with the new For Sale sign on their front lawn.
Spirituality & Practice
Late in the 1960s, the famous folksingers Peter, Paul, and Mary sang Leslie Braunstein's "I'm in Love with a Big Blue Frog." It was widely accepted as a metaphor for the prejudice and persecution of blacks during the civil rights era. This combination children's book and CD with three songs performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary is designed for children ages 6 and up. It is illustrated by Joshua S. Brunet.
In the book we meet a very happy couple in a soda shop while the other animal customers look at them with anger and disdain: she is a perky redhead and he is a tall blue frog. At a park they think about the children they will have; we learn that he has a Ph.D. and a father who is an enchanted prince. But none of that helps in the neighborhood where they are greeted with hating looks. Word has it that property values will plummet now that the blue frog and his wife have moved in. But this patient and creative couple have a plan which just might change things in the neighborhood.
I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog's new ending proves that it takes both spunk and imagination to triumph over prejudice and bring people together.
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Page count: 28
11 3/8 x 10 1/4